Earthquakes coach Frank Yallop was less than overjoyed that he constantly had to juggle lineups last season because of his team’s injuries.
This time, San Jose’s multiple changes from its previous match are almost entirely Yallop’s idea.
After a disappointing defeat to Real Salt Lake to open the season, Yallop appears set to make three alterations to his starting XI when the Earthquakes face the Fire on Saturday , with a knock-on effect at a fourth position.
Based on the lineup he used in a scrimmage against Santa Clara on Tuesday night and again in a training session on Wednesday, Brandon McDonald will start at a central midfield spot and Joey Gjertsen will open at right half. To accommodate Gjertsen, Arturo Alvarez will bump up to the frontline alongside Ryan Johnson.
Javier Robles and Cornell Glen are the odd men out.
In addition, Steve Beitashour will debut at right back, although that’s because Chris Leitch is unavailable due to suspension.
The McDonald move has the best chance to be a permanent one. Yallop put McDonald into the lineup at halftime of the 3-0 loss to RSL, and if not for a muscle strain behind his right knee suffered while training with the U.S. National Team in January, McDonald could easily have opened the season on the field.
The Earthquakes split central midfield duties fairly evenly when Robles and Andre Luiz started against RSL, but the defending champions turned out to be dominant in terms of possession. With McDonald in, the Quakes can use more of an offense-defense pairing, with Andre Luiz creating and McDonald in a holding role.
“They wanted more bite in the midfield, wanted it to be my role to sit in front of the back line and clean up, kind of be the garbage man,” McDonald said. “I like being hard-nosed, getting tackles that set the tone for our team. Every team’s got to have that kind of guy to come in and get the tackles done.”
Yallop said he plans on using Eduardo as a second-half substitute up front. The Brazilian forward has been troubled by a hip strain, but looked much improved in training this week.
One player who will not be used is returning forward Scott Sealy. The paperwork cementing Sealy’s return has not been fully processed by the league, but even if his re-signing was official, he still needs to get back into match shape.
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @sjquakes.